How are organisations using technology and IT to help improve customer experience? While a recent trend for CIOs and IT directors has been to talk about placing the customer at the heart of what the organisation is trying to do - achieved by maintaining a relentless focus on user needs - beyond the trite topline sentiments details are scarcer of how business leaders are going about improving customer satisfaction.

At Elmbridge Borough Council, Head of IT Mark Lumley and Head of Customer Service Dawn Crewe have been on a mission to make it as easy as possible for the public to interact with the local government organisation, one of Surrey's 11 borough councils which serves more than 124,000 citizens, and discussed some of their latest citizen relationship management (CRM) techniques with CIO UK.

1. Transparency

Crewe said that not hiding anything from the customer was critical, and something as simple as using the same interface internally as the public see was key to providing a good service.

"We see the customised landing page in the CRM that the customers also see," she said.

"We want to be open and transparent with our users, making sure people see the same things internally as externally. Things don't need to be hidden, and with most local government transactions people just need to do them quickly and get out of the organisation."

2. Get your data right

Head of IT Lumley said that as a starting point, the council needed to have one correct set of data so that it could start joining up the customer journey, while Crewe's vision as Head of Customer Service was to deliver a '360-degree customer experience'.

After deploying a VoiceSage CRM, Lumley said that the council had a better view of the customer. He said: "We may have had some of this information before, as part of resident surveys and other engagements, but we'd never had it as a central, defined element of every phone call with a member of the public."

3. Customer feedback

While tracking a case from start to completion, Crewe believes that teams also need to capture customer feedback on the citizen's overall experience if the council or organisation is going to be able to improve. She believes she's holistic improvements are "innovative and quite brave" for UK local government that moves beyond collecting statistics to using and acting upon them.

4. Know your metrics

Sorting out your data and responding to feedback is still just the start however, if an organisation is acting on insight that is irrelevant to the customer. Crewe said that it wasn't until Elmbridge council rolled out its new CRM that it was able to measure what actually mattered most to residents.

"Previously we had always reported how long it takes to answer a call, but in reality that statistic is fairly meaningless to our customers," she said. "Instead, we want to know how satisfied they are with the speed of response instead."

5. Be Agile

Moving beyond traditional project management methodologies was important for the organisation to think and work in a different way about how it could best meet customer needs in Elmbridge council, Crewe and Lumley revealed.

"Previously I had quite a PRINCE2 Waterfall mindset," Crewe explained. "But we learned quickly to go to a more Agile approach after getting good feedback from staff. For years we've had that PRINCE2 mentality, and it has its place but there are constraints.

"We had a strong foundation and especially with this Agile approach we were able to take parts of a process, put it right quickly and then move on," she said.

6. Collaboration and cross-training

Lumley said that by making his IT team truly collaborate with other lines of business, and by embedding some of the technology staff within other departments, Elmbridge was able to deliver a better customer service.

"I came from different area as shared head of IT with Epsom," Lumley said. "Working with Dawn was a meeting of like minds, of what was possible with technology and good customer service attitude.

"We've cross-trained people from the project teams and that has worked really well, while for the intensive projects we all worked in a room together. It was an effort to get them working like that initially but now they like it.

"We weren't necessarily silo-driven two years ago, but we definitely aren't now. We just work together; IT and customer service."

7. Securing board buy-in

At Elmbridge, having backing from the most senior executive level was crucial to helping deliver an ambitious customer service programme. Crewe said that the borough council's board empowered the Head of IT and Head of Customer Service the make the crucial decisions, and Lumley echoed that while everything in local government has a political agenda - improving customer service was left to Crewe and the IT chief who were empowered within a structured framework to deliver the project.